BULA VINAKA! Recently, I returned from my first trip to Fiji, but it definitely will not be my last! Although I have been selling Fiji to my clients for many years, I now have so much more knowledge and understanding of this friendly, beautiful and happy place!

With much excitement and anticipation, I boarded a new Fiji Airways plane in the late evening and in just 10 hours I arrived in Nadi, Fiji for breakfast. The service on board the flight was professional and friendly so I knew I was headed in the right direction! With my first breath of the Fiji balmy air upon arrival, I was welcomed and serenaded by an instrumental trio before whisking through passport control. I had arrived!

This particular FAMIL was very well organized by Travel2 and Tourism Fiji, along with the many properties I visited. In the end, I was able to experience 9 properties – each one unique so it was important for me to understand the differences. Understanding the uniqueness of each property is key to selling Fiji and because of my new awareness, it will make Fiji so much easier to promote and offer to my clients.

My extensive knowledge of the islands we visited will enable me to offer the perfect resort to my clients. It was fun and exciting to see how Namale differs from Matangi. Or how the Koro Sun would fit a different demographic client. As I traveled to other island groups, client’s names popped into my head as I learned Likuliku has many water activities that are perfect for them. Or that Namale has the perfect villa with “Do Not Disturb” written all over it. Or that Matangi has an incredible tree house where I was privileged to stay. Malolo, Tokariki, Sofitel – they each have their own character that now shouts to me when I think of Fiji.

The resorts are amazing, yes, but Fiji stole my heart………the people stole my soul. When a destination can not only combine beautiful islands, unique and amazing resorts, delicious food, fabulous activities, and a welcoming culture, but can provide service by the friendliest, happiest culture I have ever experienced – that is something to scream and shout about to the world!

The following is a true story – maybe you heard about it? – it happened to me in Fiji – a travel agent who has been around the world and preaching to anyone I meet that they must cross borders to learn other cultures for better understanding and world peace……………

With my beach bag in hand, I climbed into our awaiting speed boat from Matangi Resort & Spa. It was not easy to leave this magical place! Such a beautiful island and the staff made my stay so special.   Tears flowed down my cheeks as our speed boat pulled away from the Matangi beach. The sweet voices of the staff singing the Fijian “Farewell Song” still keep repeating in my mind. In 20 minutes we were across the bay to an awaiting van that took us through gorgeous jungle and villages to the airport and on to our next property – Namale. From boat, to van to small plane and upon arrival at SavuSavu Airport, I reached into my beach bag for my purse………..NO purse!

“The Purse” – which contained my life – credit cards, cash, iPhone, Passport and my favorite photo of my boys that I travel with everywhere!

I remembered placing my small purse in my beach bag at Matangi. Did it fall out? My head was in a fog trying to recall my steps. For 2 full days the search was on by Janie Hall, our fantastic Travel2 leader and Ini of Tourism Fiji. Phone calls going back and forth to Matangi, our van driver, etc. etc. Nothing. Fortunately, I practice what I preach – I did have a copy of my passport and credit cards. Quickly I cancelled credit cards and a plan was created for me to file a police report in Nadi, and then leave the group and fly to Suva to have an emergency passport issued. I would be delayed arriving back home to LAX by 2 days. Many calls were made back and forth to all key spots where I had been with no good news. But none of us lost hope.

When we reached Nadi, Tourism Fiji had planned to meet me and escort me to the police station to file the report. I would meet the group later in the day at Likuliku Resort & Spa. Waiting calmly for Ini she appears from her office and says, “I have news……your purse has been found………..with everything in it!” Screams, tears, hugs……….I still tear up! “Everything” was in “the purse”! The good news quickly was out to everyone. I still think that everyone in Fiji knew about “the purse” – it was their mission to find it! My feelings of gratitude and disbelief will carry with me forever!

And, where was “the purse” found? In the van that took us to the airport from the beach landing.

So who found “the purse”?

I was fortunate to sit next to Sake, Operations Manager of Likuliku Resort & Spa for a special dinner. I began to tell him about “the purse”. Quickly he advised he already knew about it and was excited to hear it was me who it belonged to. I then asked him if he knew who found it. And, he did! A gentleman from a nearby village of his on the island of Taveuni. His name…..Sikeli!   I asked, “Is there a way I can get in contact him to show him my gratitude?” Sake said yes and told me to find him the following morning and he would arrange a phone conversation for me. Wow! Exciting!

“Bula Vinaka Sikeli!” My heart was thumping fast as Sake handed me his cell phone. “Bula Vinaka Sikeli” thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for finding my purse.” Sikeli apologized to me for not finding it sooner as it was lodged between the seat and the wall of his van. He didn’t see it the first time he was advised of “the purse” missing. But as he was cleaning his van he saw it there. Imagine – he was apologizing to me!!! I went on…..crying……”Sikeli, I want to do something special for you and your village. Please tell me what your village needs.” Of course, this was not something Sikeli even imagined would be offered. I do believe in Karma. With the help of Sake, I am donating money towards the loan on the van that Sikeli drives. It’s the least I can do to acknowledge him!

My story had a very happy ending. It did not surprise me that “the purse” was turned in with everything in it or that so many of the people in Fiji put 100% of their effort to track it down. That’s just the way the Fijian people are – it is the way they live their life! The Fijians are happy, warm, caring, appreciative and loving. I believe all things happen for a reason. In this case, it was meant for me to meet so many wonderful people that now I call my friends! “VINAKA, VINAKA” to all the wonderful people of Fiji, and I know I will see you all again soon!

Leaving Fiji was not easy…..I was leaving many new friends behind and a culture that has such a warm and spiritual soul. An easy way of living that exudes an overwhelming respect and pride of family, friends and their village. A culture full of rituals, song and ceremonies which I became “at home” with so quickly.

Thank you Travel2, in particular Janie Hall; Tourism Fiji; all 9 properties I visited, Fiji Airways and Signature Travel Network for enriching my life! “VINAKA”!